Genesis 37:1–11: Joseph the Dreamer
Genesis 37:1 properly belongs as the final word to complete the previous chapter, where we read of the “generations of Esau” (Gen. 36:1). Genesis 36 recounts the extensive spread of Esau’s descendants throughout the land of Seir as the fulfillment of God’s prophecies. To Rebekah, the Lord promised that Esau would become a nation and a people (Gen. 25:23)—although Jacob’s nation and people would be stronger Jacob. Then, through Isaac’s blessing, God promised Esau that he would have a dwelling, but, unlike Jacob, Esau’s dwelling would be away from the fatness of the earth and from the dew of heaven (Gen. 27:39). Although Jacob was not without his deep flaws, Esau’s mind is set exclusively on earthly things, for he is a “man of the field” (Gen. 25:27). Jacob may have deceived, but Esau willingly traded away the heavenly promise of Isaac’s birthright to satisfy the urges of his belly (Gen. 25:34), and Esau forfeited Isaac’s heavenly blessing by marrying Canaanite and Ishmaelite women, whom God had specifically excluded from the promises (Gen. 26:34–35; 28:6–9). Genesis 36, therefore, traces out the growth of Esau’s earthly enrichment. This enrichment demonstrates God’s grace in blessing him by giving him what he wants. Nevertheless, we now see the result: Jacob alone continues to dwell in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan (Gen. 37:1). By God’s grace, Jacob alone will be the recipient of the heavenly promises.
As the focal point of the narrative shifts from Jacob to Jacob’s sons, we read of one more division in the household of the holy family. Joseph is one one side, with all of his brothers against him, on the other. Ultimately, the hatred of Joseph’s brothers will lead to a lengthy, painful, circuitous journey that will lead Joseph to become the second most powerful person in the world, as well as the world’s savior through his management of a famine crisis. This first part of the story, then, gives us critical background to help us understand the brothers’ deep hatred against Joseph. While Jacob’s favoritism does Joseph no favors in the eyes of Joseph’s brothers, the biggest problem arises from Joseph’s words—first, a bad report that he brings against his brothers (v. 2), and second, two dreams that portray his whole family bowing down to him (v. 5–10). These are not merely dreams, however, but revelation from God himself. In this chapter, we see an initial warning about Joseph’s righteousness in the face of his evil brothers: don’t shoot the Lord’s messenger.
1) How does this passage set up the Joseph story as a whole? What happens here that explains the great hatred of Joseph’s brothers for him, leading them eventually to sell him into slavery and to fake his death to their father? What features lead us to recognize that Joseph will one day reign and rule over his brothers? How does the text foreshadow the ultimate movement of the nation of Israel (Jacob and his sons) to Egypt to set up the Exodus story?
2) How does this text portray Joseph as a faithful prophet for the Lord? Where do we see him faithfully declaring the truth? How do we see him suffer for his faithfulness? Where are you tempted to shrink back from faithfully sharing the word of the Lord with other people around you? What fears keep you from the kind of faithfulness that Joseph exhibits? What where one difficult area where you need to speak the truth this coming week, in spite of the suffering it may bring?
3) What kind of reactions do Joseph’s brothers experience when they hear Joseph declaring the message that the Lord had revealed to Joseph in his dream (v. 4)? How do their affections and their actions reveal the condition of their hearts? How have you responded recently when you are confronted with hard truths from God’s word? What is your initial, gut reaction? What have you done in response? Do your actions line up with faith and obedience? If not, why?
4) How is Jacob’s reaction to hearing Joseph’s second dream similar to the reaction of Joseph’s brothers? What does it mean, though, when we read that Jacob “kept the saying in mind” (v. 11)? How does Jacob’s willingness to continue considering the prophetic revelation revealed to Joseph portray Jacob’s faith? How might we continue to “keep in mind” hard sayings in mind by pondering over the parts of God’s word that we find difficult? How does Romans 12:2 instruct us toward this goal?